Time is Not a Problem – But You Might be Making it into One!

“ I am working on this project now, but perhaps I should be spending time with my children instead”.

“Would it really be worth my time to go and watch that movie?”

“I should really be doing something productive instead of sitting around wasting my time like this”

“This train journey is so long, we have to somehow find a way to kill time

“Maybe I should enrol in a seminar to learn to manage time more effectively”

“I needed some me-time so I took off on the weekend by myself”

“Oh I wasn’t doing anything much, I was just passing time with some friends”

“If I take a taxi instead of walking I could save time that way”

Do any of these statements sound familiar. What is time really, and what are the collective beliefs in our society about time? What have we been taught to believe about time when we were children? What are your personal beliefs about time? Let’s examine how some of these beliefs might be influencing the way you relate to time?

When we talk of spending time, or killing time, or passing time, or managing time, what have we made time into? Have we made time into an external entity or monster that needs to be controlled and conquered? When we are worried if something is going to be ‘worth our time’,  when we crave ‘me-time’, when we are anxious about not ‘wasting time’, and when we are on a constant lookout to ‘save time’, are we conceptualizing time as something that is a scarce resource (outside of ourselves) that needs to be milked and effectively utilized.

Have you ever been engaged in one activity but at the same time also had a voice in your head telling you that another activity would be a more ‘useful’ use of your time. Are you familiar with the voice that urges you to hurry through whatever you are doing so you can give more time to your next task. I am sure you also know the voice that reprimands you for ‘wasting time’, or the one that worries about how you will ‘pass your time’ in the future. Can you see how these voices either create guilt, shame, and feelings of ‘not good enough’, or feelings of fear, anxiety and foreboding. They are not particularly uplifting voices, and having them as the background chatter in our minds can be very draining. Overall, the feeling they create in us is either one of life being a battle (where we have to save, protect, and effectively manage time) or that of life being a drudgery (where we need to find ways to kill and pass time), or life being a continuous-form-report-card with a fail grade (telling us our time could be or should be put to better use elsewhere).  

I am only too familiar with a life that feels like a combination of a battle, a drudgery, and a report card with a failed grade. However, once in a while, the chatter of voices in my head subsides, and I experience a moment where I am not bothered about time. At such times my being bursts forth with the unbridled joy of simply being alive. I feel eager to play, to create, to write, to work, and to just do whatever I am doing. I feel supported and cherished by the universe to just be whoever I am being with no sense of wrongness or ‘not-good-enough-ness’. The past is no longer a series of mistakes to be corrected and the future is not a foreboding of anxiety and worry, and threat. Life simply just is.  

Time is not your enemy. No, she is not your school principal, or your mother, or your boss or your local priest, although if you pay close attentions to the admonitions related to time in your head you might detect their voices. Nor is time your slave, your servant, or a resource to be milked, though your management textbooks might sometimes portray her that way.

We have, as a society, given a lot of character and significance to a concept that science has not even been able to establish as an objective reality. The best explanation in science so far is that time is a subjective construct in our heads which we use to measure the distance between any two of our own intrinsic life experiences. Why have we created so much humdrum about time then. If we have to give time a name and face and character, at least let us give it one that fills our lives with ease.

What if I told you time is just a free bird on wings. She is the free bird who lives in your heart. She is not something or someone separate from you. She is not someone you need to free yourself from. She is something created by you and you can paint her in any colour or form you like. You can give her the role of being a non-judgemental cheerleader who will cheer you on through life. You can give her the role of a lover who will welcome you each moment with delight. You can give her the role of a playmate who will play and surprise you each moment.

My face for time article
Photo by Seema Swami

How about creating a different vocabulary with relation to time? Instead of killing time, what if we could play with time? Instead of spending time, what if we could lovingly gift our time? Instead of worrying about wasting time what if we could see time like the rest of nature where ‘waste’ does not even exist as a construct. Instead of saving time, what if we could savour time. Instead of passing time, what if we could make love with time?

 

Can I Truly Receive if I Believe there is ‘No Free Lunch’?

flower basketI was delighted twice this morning, with wonderful surprise gifts – in short succession of each other. I opened the front door, still sleepy eyed, and I saw on my garden bench a wonderful basket crafted out of a leaf. The basket had been artistically filled with a selection of dainty summer blossoms from our campus. I guessed who might have left it there and I texted my friend to thank her! Luckily it turned out my guess was correct. I then sat to meditate in the verandah and about an hour later when I opened my eyes, there on the table beside me was another surprise gift. It was a yummy bar of dark chocolate, which incidentally is the kind of chocolate I like the best! This time I could not even guess who the gift was from and at the time of writing this article I still do not know!chocolate

As I picked up the chocolate with gratitude and glee, I sensed that I was not able to truly receive it – the way I received the flower basket gift an hour back. Was it because I did not know who had left it for me? Was it because this one was food (bought from a shop), while the other came directly from nature (with no money involved)?

I wondered what it would take for me to be able to truly receive, anything and everything that the universe wanted to gift to me without judging it on the basis of whether it was hand picked from nature, or bought with money? I wondered if my own mental models and beliefs about receiving, about gifts, about transactions, and about money might be coming in the way? I remembered a passionate debate I had engaged in about a month earlier on pretty much the same topic – but this debate had been at a societal level rather than a psychological level.

We had been resting after a long day’s trek, sipping coconut water when a co-traveller had casually remarked, “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. I had heard this much quoted phrase several times before, and had also debated strongly about it during my college days as well during my days as an academic in a business school. However, on this particular evening, when I heard it, every cell in my body stirred up like cats bristles. It was as if my inner being was protesting – urging me to take a stand, and voice my opposition against this overused clique (that many have unfortunately started believing as a ‘truth’).

We had just re-emerged into civilization after two days spent in the wild forests of the western ghats. The ‘thinker’ in me was fully aware that we would eventually be paying for the lovely drink of the coconut water we were sipping. Yet, the spirit of the mountains, the trees, and the free flowing streams that I was still carrying in my energy system seemed to stand blatantly in non-alignment to the axiom of ‘no free lunch’. They seemed to tell me that our universe was an interconnected web of abundance that embodied an ethos where we would automatically be making our greatest contribution just through being our authentic selves (like a bumble bee that pollinates flowers just by following its natural instinct to suck nectar). As long as one was open to receiving, there were infinite lunches, gifts, and experiences to be savoured in the world.

My co-traveller who had made the original remark about ‘no free lunches’ and I soon got into a debate on the topic and I invited the other trekkers around to join as well. I proposed two alternate statements and asked everyone which statement their heart resonated with more. The two statements were,

Option a: There is no such thing as a free lunch
Option b: The planet is desiring to gift to us an abundant supply of free lunches

We started off by agreeing that this dialogue was not just about food and that we were using ‘lunches’ as a metaphor for experiences that nurture, satiate, and spark life in us. Interestingly quite a few people chose option a first and then switched to option b, and vice versa. Eventually most people converged towards concluding that while one statement (option b) appealed to them philosophically, the other (option-a) seemed to be the ‘practical reality’ they were witnessing. Some people said that both these statements were true in different contexts.

As our discussion progressed we used the metaphor of trees to marvel at how just by being true to her own inner nature (and purpose) a tree lands up feeding other creations quite effortlessly. We wondered about the possibility of a shared interconnected reality (and therefore an economy) where each one of us could become a contribution (and therefore a source of ‘free lunches’ to others) just by being true to our own inner nature (and authentic life purpose).

We also discussed some of the philosophical ideas behind upcoming movements like the ‘gift economy’ and ‘conscious capitalism’. We talked about the construct of money, the idea of barter and how some local communities are now experimenting with unique variations of the barter system. One of our co-trekkers narrated his experience with the ‘Seva Cafe’ and his also told us about groups that are increasingly using the internet to facilitate crowdfunding of and investment in non-profit ideas. The internet itself was discussed as a hub of generous ‘free lunches’ where knowledge and information was being shared with all for free.

One of the more skeptic trekkers in our group remarked, ‘this kind of a system can only work if there is a shift in everyone’s consciousness and for that we will need some new kind of dictatorship’. Our whole group started laughing at the irony of this comment and we wondered what could really bring about a shift in mass consciousness. Could there be methods or processes which would catalyze change in consciousness which did not involve any form of coercion or forced conversion?

I personally am of the opinion that this shift in consciousness is already under way. In fact I believe that is why we are even having these dialogues and discussions in the first place. In my view we need not try too hard to deliberately catalyze a shift in consciousness. Our own unhappiness and growing frustration with the current system of living and interacting (aka economy), will catapult us into a shift . Drawing a parallel from my own life, my deep unhappiness and frustration at work led me to study the meaning of work and then craft for myself a mode of working where the ‘work’ I do is now my best friend – a pillar of strength and an opportunity to contribute. Frustration is not always our enemy – indeed sometimes it might just be the harbinger of change.

As we walked back towards the nearest town, the co-traveller who had initially used the phrase, ‘There is no such thing as free lunch’, shook his head at me in seeming disbelief and asked, ‘have you ever studied microeconomics?’. The truth is that I have studied microeconomics not just once, but three times – and each time I have understood and related to it in a different way.

The first time I was exposed to microeconomics was while studying engineering in IIT Madras. At that time it was just a set of equations and rules for me and I accepted the ‘rules’’ of transaction and pricing like one would accept the law of gravity or electricity. I memorized the equations, used them to answer my exam questions, believed I had understood microeconomics.

My second rendezvous with this subject was while studying management at IIM Ahmedabad. This time, I spent more time pondering over questions like whether we truly were a species that was dumb enough to ‘value’ diamonds over water, just because the latter was less scarce? I started asking myself if this was an authentic form of ‘valuation’ in our hearts or more of a superficial valuation that we had either been socialized or brainwashed into. I looked at the giving and taking that occured in nature and I wondered if the supply and demand curves really needed to intersect? Was not nature just showering us with gifts each day and telling us ‘take whatever you need, whenever you need’?

The third time I studied microeconomics, was during my PhD at London Business School. This time however, I was lucky to be studying microeconomics at the same time as the philosophy of science. I now understood the propositions and equations that filled up the economics textbooks as desperate attempts by economists who wanted to understand and model the universe. However, rather than study it in all it’s complexity and shades of grey they had unwittingly limited their understanding to what could be represented it in the form of a mathematical equation, with or without dummy variables (pun very much intended)!. How else could one justify the foundational economic assumptions of ‘self interest’, ‘scarcity’, or ‘rationality’ when the real world is flooded with examples to the contrary.

So, coming back to my original question about the art of receiving, I wonder how one could truly receive if one has bought into the notion that ‘there is no free lunch’. The notion of no free lunch will make us view every gift as a bribe, every act of generosity as manipulation, every smile as networking, and every display of affection as self promotion. If we believe there is no free lunch how will we be able to truly receive anything – for even while receiving we might feel compelled to think about how we could pay back or ‘return the favour’. The field of economics has some captivating frameworks but let us be careful to not let those frameworks condition us out of our innate nature and birthright.

Step on It – Gypsy Feet & Curious Heart

As I step into my 40’th year on this gorgeous planet, I have decided to re-affirm the love and affinity I feel for the Earth. I want to acknowledge my burning desire to explore the geographies and myriad terrains this planet has to offer. Round numbers have a strange effect on our psyche and forty seems like an apt jolt to make directional adjustments, shift gears, or to quite literally Step On It!

I would be an idiot if by now I have not have realized how much I love travelling. In fact this particular calling has been clear to me ever since I first read the poem “Ulysses” by Tennyson back in 8’th grade. I remember that day ever so vividly. I was on vacation with my family and we were staying in a vintage guest house in Ooty. I was walking in pretty gardens that overlooked the slopes of the Nilgiris which in the evening were fading into a painted sunset sky. I had in my hands my school text book of poems (Panorama) which I had brought along to study. Quite by chance, I chose Tennyson’s poem that evening. I remember reading it and feeling, ‘Oh my god! this is my life – this is my story – this is what will be my story – this is the way I feel in my veins’. I found an arch in the garden, a dainty gateway with rose creepers that had made it their home and I stood transfixed in that archway gazing at the blurring of hills, mist, and sky till the night queen came to drape her blackness over it. At some point my mother force-summoned me indoors, but she could not hush the lines in my head that whispered over and over,

“I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move”

 

Forty, brings with it a certain sense of freedom for me. A freedom that I can savour now, which perhaps I might have been unable to in my youth. I recently chanced upon a diary I had written in during my IIT days. As early as a few months into engineering (even before our very first term break) I had realized that my heart was not in it. I was only eighteen then but I had clearly articulated in that diary that my inner desire was to be a travelling writer. However, I also had other programs and ambitions running my mind (and my life) and so the ‘travelling-writer’ dream went into hibernation. Now, in my fortieth year, with a trail of academic, corporate and other experiences behind me, the clutter of those ‘other programs and ambitions’ in my mind have cleared out. I have lived through most of my other aspirations and ambitions, while also travelling a bit every now and then. What I sense today is that all these years of varied experiences, achievements and challenges have actually served to whet my appetite for travel even more.

“I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea:”

As I enter my fortieth year, my son will enter his 10’th year. I feel extremely lucky and fortunate to have experienced motherhood. Sensing a new life taking shape inside my womb has been an esoterically precious experience. I have delighted in the joy of holding my new-born to my bosom and gaze at him move spontaneously to music. I fondly remember the toddler years of picking pebbles and chasing ducks in regents park. Those were days packed with wonder, laughter, amazement, and growth. Before I knew it my world was full of Play Doh, Crayons, Puzzles, Train tracks, and Blocks. Travelling with my son has been a lot of fun but it has been a different kind of travel. When I have traveled with my son my focus has been more on how I can engage with him and cater to his needs. Although it has not been the ‘gypsy feet’ sort of travel, it has been rewarding in it’s own way. Now however, my son is older and our independent tastes are starting to reveal themselves. He is currently into remote control cars, electronic DIY, tennis, and football. He has fun playing with his peers and doing boy-stuff with his dad. His mummy now has more time to herself and forty just looks like an apt milestone to start paying attention to the whispers of her own wanderlust again.

“This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, …
…When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.”

I wonder if forty is young or old? When I was twenty I used to think that forty is old, but now in my fortieth year I feel like my explorations are still in their nascent stages. I guess numbers only have meaning in relation to one another and so age can only have significance as a relative concept. So while I am older than who I was earlier, I am also younger than who I will be in the years to come. There have been times when I have wondered if I ‘wasted’ part of my youth by not travelling as much as I would have liked to. But regret has very limited use in this universe, and so I am choosing to look ahead. My body might have aged and I might not have as much stamina now as I used to have in my twenties, but what the heck – I am what I am today, and the world is welcoming me.

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

So as I start out on my fortieth year I am deciding to honour my Gypsy Feet and Curious Heart. I will allow them to take me where they have been wanting to taking me all these years. I am gifting to myself a second half of my life that will be spent hiking through mountain trails, swimming in streams and rock pools, sailing over expansive oceans, walking through rustic meadows, and camping in enchanted forests. And on that note…

“Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.”

———–x———–x———x————

Note: All verses quoted in the essay above are from the poem ‘Ulysses’ by Lord Tennyson. You can read the original poem here – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659

me on bike

 

Crow Magic – Honouring Whispers of Intuition

I was walking in a corridor in my campus building where I walk everyday, and I looked up and saw this crow! I felt a voice inside me asking me to ‘click’ a pic. I am not much of a photographer but over the years I have trained myself to really heed this inside voice. Even though I found a crow to be a not so ‘inspiring subject to click’ I just clicked! Look at the magical show of lights I discovered when I was later going through the photos. There are no flowers or stars or gems that adorn these creepers – it is all just the play of light. Perhaps life itself is just a play of light, but that is the material for another post altogether!

Crow magicWhen I felt the nudge to click the picture, none of these wonderful colours were visible to me with my naked eyes. I was just asked to focus on a boring black crow (which I did).

This seems to happen in my life all the time. In fact these days the ‘success rate’ or ‘surprise delight rate’ or ‘miracle rate’ of listening to that soft inner voice (or intuitive nudge) is so great that it has actually stopped surprising me. I have many delightful stories to share in this space. They are not photographic miracles but photography is a wonderful metaphor to use to explain what I am trying to say. There always seems to be much more in each frame of life than our physical senses can see. There seems to be many magical and miraculous ‘future possible’ effects of really simple actions taken in the present. What or who can guide us to take these actions? In my life experiences my intuitive voice has shown me not just once but again and again and again that it can (and wants to) guide me.

For example, honouring calls as simple as ‘go meet xyz’, or write a note saying ‘hello long time… to abc’ has created miraculous turnarounds like degree-saving inputs that infused new life into a staling and seemingly stuck PhD dissertation, or landing a job that I realised was all the things I have been asking for literally rolled into one. Each of the times I had decided to ‘act’ on these intuitive nudges my rational brain had no idea of how this action would be of ‘use’ or ‘benefit’ to me. I find this happening all the time in larger and smaller ways in my everyday work as well. Books jump out at me in bookshops, links scream at me from an ad-bar, or a particular email that seems like just another forward begs to be opened during a busy day. Most of the times when I decide to act on my intuition I get pleasant gifts and surprises which I could not have foreseen.

Who or what is it that cares for me so much, and loves me so much, looks out for me beyond my own physical eyes can see, and delights me in ways far beyond my brain’s capacity to imagine? I sometimes ascribe it to my Angels, sometimes to God, sometimes to my Subconscious mind, and sometimes to the Universe itself that gently holds the smaller ‘construct of me’ as part of it’s own larger self. Perhaps all these are the same thing even – Angels, God, Subconscious mind, Universe, and Me.

Perhaps it is indeed just a magical play of shimmering lights with the light itself creating the ‘constructs’ of photographer, camera, lens, voice of intuition, and even the act of photography. Yet within this illusion, each time I heed the whispers of intuition, I am delighted by more magic, and I am reminded that there is much much more to life than my physical eyes and ears and brain can together ‘figure out’.

Even a Word like ‘Divorce’ can Eventually Lose its Sting

Today, Life surprised me in a strange way. I was teaching a class of MBA students and was debriefing an exercise on negotiation that they had done yesterday in which they had played roles of buyers and sellers. At one point I wanted to emphasize how negotiations are not just about buying and selling but about the agreements that we need to reach and agree upon in our everyday lives. True that we negotiate in business contexts but we also negotiate in various other aspects of our lives. Quite spontaneously, I brought up the example of my own divorce and mentioned that divorce is also a form of negotiation. A complex, consuming and intense one – but at the heart of it, it is still a negotiation. As I mentioned this example, a part of me started smiling inside of me and I realized that finally the word ‘Divorce’ had lost it’s sting for me. A few years back it was a loaded and heavy word for me – something that had strings of judgement and unpleasant emotions attached to it. A word that would make me shrivel and hide because it represented something that I wanted to avoid at any cost – something that I had made into a ‘taboo’ in my world. Today, it was an example that I spontaneously brought up in front of a class of 70 students.

This post is not about the reasons why I got divorced. It is about how a word (and therefore the concept represented by that word) which was heavy and frightening to me eventually became a neutral word that now points to yet another life event that I went through. So this post is really about the significance that we attach to words and concepts and how that significance can sometimes land up tormenting us.

Phase 1 is when a word (and therefore the associated concept) is so loaded and significant that we unknowingly set up rules in our own heads about how we will (or never will) participate in or condone a particular action. This is how ‘Divorce’ was for me at one stage. At that time if anyone had mentioned the word ‘divorce’ (and indeed I did have people in my life suggesting it), it would practically fall on deaf years (my own deaf years). In this phase the idea (in this case the idea of Divorce) has been made so wrong that it does not even get permission to enter your mindspace in order to be considered as an option. This is also the stage where we are quick to judge others who might be engaging in that activity or process without even taking in the finer and more detailed parameters of the particular situation into consideration. In psychology we call this ‘black and white thinking’ something driven by the more primitive parts of our brain. It typically occurs because the very mention of the word evokes strong aversion or some other type of negative emotion (like fear or anger) in us. This emotion then hijacks our thinking in a way that the primitive part of the brain is activated and this part of the brain thinks in ‘black and white’ since it is not capable of processing the finer nuances or complexities of the particular situation.

Phase 2 is when one is forced to reflect upon and deal with a certain word (because the concept or activity that the word points to has now become a reality in their own lives). The concept (in this case ‘Divorce’) could have become a reality because of choice or due to external circumstances beyond one’s control. Either way, it is now something that the person has to cognitively face and deal with on a day to day basis. Now this word (or concept) occupies real time presence in the person’s thought processes. He or she has no option but to reflect on it and process it along with the strong emotions that it might still evoke. The word still stings but the word has to be used (in one’s own thoughts as well as in speech) in real and undeniable ways. This is the toughest phase in my opinion. In this phase one feels confused, vulnerable, and susceptible to other people’s judgements. This is because the person himself or herself still has judgements attached to the word or idea. In this phase one also tends to get defensive and easily provoked by other people’s statements (even when the person making the statement might not have meant any harm). Sometimes society and the judgements and conclusions of people around us make it stickier and trickier to move out of phase 2.

Phase 3 (and what I think is the last phase) is when the word (or related concept) finally loses it’s sting. For me it took time, and happened ever so gradually that I did not even consciously realize that the word had finally lost it’s sting. With regard to the word ‘Divorce’ I only realized this in class today when I could speak about the incident in a detached and non-defensive way. I think this can happen faster for some people and takes more time for others. One factor that helps make it faster is if the person is forced to use the word more and more in public situations and with others. I think it typically takes longer if one keeps silent and processes the word only in solitude within the confines of his or her own inner world. It also helps if one can meet up with others in similar situations who are also trying to deal with the pain of a certain word (because of the associated pain of the event it points to), and they talk about it openly. Each time I had an opportunity to talk openly about my own divorce I did sense the energy and charge around the word shifting. However, this works well only if the people you are talking to themselves have low charge and judgement associated with the word, or are at least approaching the conversation with an aim to discharge the charge around the word.

Now I am not writing this essay to condone divorce or to justify it, either for me or for anybody else. We all know what divorce means. It is the dissolution of a previously made contract and agreement – the one we call ‘marriage’. However, a mere dissolution of a contract does not make ‘divorce’ the heavy and dark event that it appears to be for many of us. It is our own judgements and the meanings that we internally attach to the word (and therefore the event or process it points to) which makes it so.

I am sharing my own experience in the hope that it might bring more ease to others who might be struggling with the density and charge that certain words (or concepts) might be unleashing in their own inner worlds. This could be words like ‘Divorce’ or even other words (and associated concepts) like ‘Failure’ or ‘Layoff’ or even ‘Death’. None of these are probably life incidents that one would desire or wish for, and there is undoubtedly pain associated with them if and  when they happen. However, in my opinion the actual pain is one thing and the layers of judgement and meaning and significance that surround it is quite another thing. The latter usually comes from mental conditioning and our own internal definitions of the words. An animal for example will feel physical pain caused by an incident but not the trauma associated with the word that points to the incident.

Words are man-made constructs and together as a society we have given them layers and layers of significance. This significance can work for us or it can work against us holding us captive within the folds of it’s charge and the emotions that it evokes. It is freedom from the charges associated with such words that I am inviting you to explore.

 

Placebo Daaru – A route to acceptance and self-approval ?

About a year back I went through an intensely rough period. There were days when I would get up and wonder if this was indeed my life or if I had somehow landed into the midst of the script of a horror movie. To add to my dilemma, I had also chosen to be discreet about the details of the ‘horror’ that had descended into my world. So I could not really take ‘off’ from work or other responsibilities. With a young son and a full-time job, this meant that I still had to get up and show up for work, show up as a responsible mother, basically show up for life – no matter what was going on inside of me. There were days I would be so torn, confused and shattered of hope that I felt like I was a collection of rags that had been somehow stitched together to last one more day. Just getting through everyday stuff and chores seemed like a herculean task. Worse, I was plagued with guilt and shame because I had also played a role in creating the ‘horror’ that was now consuming me. On many mornings, all I wanted to do was lie in my bed and cry.

I knew however, that if would just lie in bed and cry, my to-do list would only grow longer and my already chaotic schedule would get even more out of control. This was a time when getting through life using my rational mind was an impossibility. Somehow, I landed up steering myself through this period, by using a combination of ‘faith’ and ‘placebo daaru’. I have written earlier about how ‘faith’ can be a life-saver in any situation. In this post however, I want to tell you about the other very effective saviour I stumbled upon – ‘placebo daaru!’.

On days when I wished I could just run away from my life, when I felt too intimidated by the pile of things lined up for the day to even walk out of my home, I started imagining that I was taking a drink of an imaginary daaru (alcoholic drink). I would allow myself to feel all heady and intoxicated, and then get the courage to get out of my home and walk to work. With the first gulp of the ‘placebo daaru’, I would forget all the ‘horror’ and ‘problems’ in my life. With the second gulp my list of pressing chores and ‘work’ would automatically become less significant. By the third gulp I would sense that my thoughts were now less intense and less rigid versions of what they had originally been. By the fourth gulp my emotions had become more fluid and they came freely into my awareness (instead of staying suppressed). By the fifth gulp, I had lightness in my steps and had reached a sense of playful abandon with which I could receive everything and everyone with whom I would come into contact that day.

‘Placebo daaru’, literally helped me get up and face the people and tasks that I otherwise wanted to shirk or hide away from. I might not have been as productive in those days as I would have been normally, but I was at least able to get up and keep functioning through my day and through my worldly commitments.

Today, the storm that had seemed out of the horror movie has mostly passed and I am in a much happier and safer place (both psychologically and physically). I seldom feel a need for placebo daaru anymore, but yet sometimes I use it just for the fun of it. I also use it if I suddenly find myself in an overwhelming situation or having to face a person that I’d otherwise not want to engage with. For me placebo daaru, works wonders by giving me courage and also allowing me to face any situation with a sense of lightness, acceptance and abandon.

Since I like de-constructing mind tools and practices to understand why and how they work, here is my theory behind ‘placebo daaru’. I think the impact and effectiveness of placebo daaru will be person-specific because it will depend on what the ‘daaru effect’ means to each person. Each one of us can create our own versions of ‘placebo daaru’, ‘placebo marijuana’, or ‘placebo whatever’ to help us cope through tough and stormy times. However it would be doubly empowering to use these ‘placebo fixes’ with the underlying awareness that in actuality, what we are doing is just flipping a switch in our own ‘mental-emotional-physiological’ state. By flipping this switch we create access to (and can then operate from) literally a different state and that different state allows us to be more courageous, light, accepting, or whatever it is that we’d rather be.

As I deconstructed the effects of placebo daaru on my own inner states here is what I found as the shifts that typically occurred for me. A shift from worry and fear into lightness and abandon. A shift from over thinking and ‘thoughts that repeated in relentless loops’ to a feeling of space in the mind and spaciousness between thoughts. A shift from being a victim of the internal ‘voice of judgement’ to a state of openness and acceptance.

Apart from these shifts I also realized that taking a few swigs of placebo daaru was akin to giving myself the permission to just be ‘me’. Because of the daaru, I was now allowed to say what I want. Because of the daaru, it was okay to not hear or understand what I did not want to. Because of the daaru, I could only do things at a pace that worked for me. Because of the daaru, I didn’t have the capacity to think or plan into the future and I could just pick the one thing that was immediately due and work on it.

In hindsight, I have realized that the most precious gift that placebo daaru gave me during those months was the permission to be imperfect. Since I was ‘drunk’, I did not have to be my best and brightest self. In a drunk state, making mistakes and omissions was completely understandable. This relieving of the ‘pressure to be perfect’ actually helped me to be brave enough to keep doing things no matter how uphill life seemed.

I have since realized that I do not need to drink imaginary ‘daaru’ to give myself the permission to be imperfect. I can do that even without the daaru by just making a choice to accept myself – flaws and errors included. Placebo daaru was just providing a convenient way out because if I did not do things perfectly I could blame it on the daaru. What would happen however if I decided to approve of myself no matter what? What if I stopped judging myself altogether and just approved of myself with all my faults and shortcomings? In a world where imperfections and mistakes was not taboo, would I still have need for my daaru?

Stepping Out of Rat Races – Material, Social, and Spiritual

I woke up to a sunny gorgeous sunday morning that had absolutely no to-do’s on my list – good or bad, wanted or unwanted! No chores, no duties, no calls, no dates, no parties. I did not even have my normal ‘mummy’ role to occupy me because my son was spending the weekend at his grandparents home. So what does one do on a gorgeous sunny morning like that?

I went to my garden with a bottle of oil, a yoga mat, an empty mind, and an open heart. I felt very ‘holidayish’ in my mind and I decided not to ‘do’ yoga or meditation as a necessary ritual but stay open to the possibility of letting anything happen. I rubbed oil on my body, played with ants, gazed at butterflies and watched squirrels dash around. A big brown bird came swooping on the ground in front of me to show off her feathers.

A nice lady who used to cook for me earlier came to chat and she offered to massage me with oil. I was tempted to take up the offer but the calling of solitude was far more alluring and so I told her I was going to do yoga. I closed my eyes and whispered heartfelt adorations to the sun and then thanked the universe for the many gorgeous people who are part of my life. Keeping with what I had told this lady, I then started doing some pranayama and was soon lost in the awareness of prana dancing inside of me. I broke my regular sequence of breathing exercises and gave way instead to following the call of the moment. Soon my yoga mat was spread out as well and I was mixing and alternating breathing exercises and asanas intuitively. I let my body take the lead in asking me which parts wanted stretching or relaxing.

Every now and then I would be transported into a trance and would spontaneously go into meditation. When it happened, I just let it happen. When another bird came hopping and rustling in the leaves nearby and I got distracted I just let myself get distracted. When an ant crawled up my arm, I let it crawl and I savoured the tickling sensation of its tiny feet on my skin. What absolute bliss to behold the subtle pressures of ant feet moving on human skin. At one point when I felt a surge of connection with all of creation, I chanted, ‘Poornamada…(a verse about infinite oneness and wholeness)’, and that then paved way for further heartfelt chanting of other prayers. Eventually when I felt hungry I got up and came inside to eat.

Was it my most efficient ‘yoga’ session?. Definitely not in measurable ways, for I did fewer asanas and only a small subset of the pranayama that I could have done in that time. However, if I stay true to the meaning of ‘yoga’ which is ‘union’, there was more yoga today than on most other days.

Why am I telling you all this? Well actually I am telling all this to a part of my own mind that is still trapped in the ‘rat-race culture’. What do I mean by the ‘rat-race-culture’? I understand it as a collective set of beliefs and frameworks that are built on pillars of lack, urgency, dissatisfaction, and inadequacy. Is there a useful side to the rat-race framework? Yes of course there is. The useful side is the motivation and propulsion that it can create towards improvement, growth, and progress (real or imaginary). Are there side effects of this framework at a societal level? Yes indeed. As long as people function within ‘rat-race-frameworks’ they are easy to control, dominate, and exploit. Most people will be so tired and occupied by trying to ensure that they hold on to their place in the race that it will be easy for leaders and institutions to keep them ‘controlled’. That said, I do not think that  leaders and institutions are creating the ‘rat-race-culture’ intentionally. In all probability they themselves are victims and creations (respectively) of the same ‘rat-race-culture’. In any case this essay is not intended to be a critique of the ‘rat-race-culture’ but rather an invitation to step out of it.

The rat races that we can get trapped into can be material rat races (more money, prettier clothes, faster cars, bigger houses, plusher offices etc..),  social rat races (ideal son/daughter, notable friend, popular person, facebook likes, good spouse etc.), or spiritual rat races (siddhi’s, virtues, realizations, and of course the ultimate nirvana). I do want to clarify here that I am not against any of these goals or aspirations per say. The material goals, the social goals, and the spiritual goals are all worthy goals and they lend amazing meaning and significance to our human experience. In all probability most of us would either go insane or get depressed if we did not have such goals to give us direction and purpose. Society itself could not have existed in absence of the significance we attach to these goals. My point in bringing attention to the rat-races is not to throw away the construct of these goals but to question the urgency and desperateness with which we pursue these goals.

In my own life I seem to have followed a stepwise approach in recognizing the gripping (and crippling effects) of these three types of rat races. The dysfunctional effects of the material rat race exploded in my face about 10 years ago. However, given, my philosophical leanings, it was quite easy for me to step out of this race. With regard to the social rat race though I did not even recognize it as a another form of ‘rat-race’ until a few years ago. Until then I had mostly been unaware of my haunting needs for appreciation and approval. I had not realized how desperately I had been bending backwards and cutting portions of myself away in order to earn more and more badges of ‘ideal daughter’, ‘good mother’, popular person etc. Thankfully, awareness always starts setting us free and I have relatively smaller parts of myself invested in the social rat race now.

My own biggest trapping these days is the ‘spiritual rat-race’. Yes this is a race I’m running in as well. A race towards virtuous perfection, a race towards enhanced awareness and wellbeing, a race towards higher levels of self mastery, a race towards experiences of other-worldly bliss and a race towards greater knowing, enlightenment and liberation. Ironically this desperate race towards ‘liberation’ seems to have me enslaved within the very framework of the race itself!

To me stepping out of the spiritual-rat-race would mean to no longer ‘force’ myself to attend yoga class and no longer chide myself for not meditating regularly. It would mean being okay to miss getting darshan of that amazing mahatma who is visiting Bangalore. It would mean being okay to be slower in washing off old karmic debts than I would have been had I attended the grand Navaratari homas. It would mean being okay to say no even if I know that saying ‘yes’ to an initiation by a master might speed me along my spiritual path. It would mean being okay with choosing to go play basketball when I felt like it (and earn lesser spiritual credits) than sit cross legged and chant (and earn more spiritual credits). It would mean giving myself the permission to travel on the spiritual path, but to do it in my way and at my pace, even if that’s not the most effective and efficient way.

In my experience it can be quite fun and relaxing to let go of frameworks, rules, patterned algorithms and ‘best practices’ and give way to spontaneity and presence. Perhaps it will not be the fasted approach or the most efficient one. Perhaps it may even take one off course and off-track. But then the tracks and courses are just constructs defined by the already existing algorithms. So in stepping out of the Rat race framework, we are, in effect, also choosing to define our own unique paths and courses. We can do this in our business, in our education, in our spiritual practices, in our art, in our relationships and in our living itself.

I think that we will get more courage to step out of the rat race when we can embrace the imperfections and ‘so called flaws’ that are part of where we are at present. I am not asking to justify the imperfections or to say ‘no’ to growth and improvement. I am just asking if we can be okay with the way we now be -imperfect, incomplete and unique. This is not about saying that we should not change or become better – it is about giving up the ‘hurry’ and ‘panic’ associated with doing so.

_MG_0241_Seema Swami
Photo by Seema Swami

It is the sense of urgency and desperateness to be somewhere rather than where we are at present which I have felt as the most debilitating part of the rat race – be it the material rat race, the social rat race or spiritual rat race. Another very crippling aspect of the rat race is the strong emphasis on the goal or destination which has potential to hijack our attention from the richness and joy of the journey itself. When the goal overshadows the journey to become the most important thing, then no matter where I am in my journey, by default I am still not good enough. The journey of self-improvement can be an awesome journey but it can become a big burden when we are plagued with a constant sense of inadequacy about our current state.

What if we consciously choose to do what we like and to do what holds meaning for us? What if we are courageous enough to try to do it the way we like and the way it works best for us? What if we choose to do only as much as we want to do, irrespective of how that might compare with what others (or we ourselves) think we should be capable of doing?

There really is NO race! The race (and it’s underlying foundations of urgency and lack) are only psychological and social constructs of our times. They can affect us only to the extent we choose to buy into them and operate within their frameworks. So why not step outside the race and taste the magical and multi-hued experiences of no-race-land?

 

Do I have Space for You in my Heart?

About three years back I had developed a fetish to wear flowers in my hair (the traditional south Indian way). At this point a friend had referred her flower delivery woman to me. Since then, this woman shows up every morning with a basket of woven flowers and gives me one ‘moyon’ (the term used for about 18 inches of woven flowers). Incidentally, the fetish for wearing flowers in my hair passed quite quickly (in about less than a month), but the flower delivery ritual continued. The outward reasons for this has been poor communication between the flower woman and me, my scant knowledge of Kannada, and my lack of assertive skills. Every time I have tried to explain to this lady that I don’t need flowers, she instead assumes that I don’t like the flowers and insists that she will get me better and fresher and a larger variety of flowers to choose from.

flower malaSince the flowers were coming in anyway, I started placing them on the pictures and idols of the Gods I have at home. That said, offering flowers to God is not an required part of my ‘Puja’ and I do have a garden full of flowers to use in Puja if I ever want to. So at the end of every month when I pay this woman, I try to tell her I want to stop her services. Somehow she insists on continuing and somehow I give in each time and so the ritual of morning flower delivery has continued.

My son is most amused by this predictably recurring sequence of events and he has tried to coach me to be more assertive. “Mamma why don’t you just tell her more firmly that you don’t want it?” He asks. I sheepishly mumble that perhaps it is a good thing anyway, perhaps she needs the money, it’s not really a bad thing to get flowers, it is not a lot of money outflow for me, etc. Hidden in some corner of my mind however is the knowing that I quite like this lady and our continuing relationship is not just about the flowers but also about ‘her and me’ and our unique encounters.

How is it that my rational mind has been reminding me that I don’t really need her flowers and yet I have not been able to bid her farewell?. Perhaps this is because in a way non-understandable by my rational mind I actually do treasure her presence in my life. She brings me gifts which on the face of it might appear intangible and therefore useless. Yet those parts of me that operate beyond my ‘rational frame’ have been acknowledging the preciousness of these gifts.

It powers me up to see this hardworking woman walking on our street early in the morning with a basket of flowers. In cold or rainy mornings when I am struggling to get out of bed and I see her up and about on her work, I draw strength and inspiration from her. My own laziness and my stiffness to do things sort of melt away a bit in her presence. My problems seem smaller in comparison to her ‘tough life’ and I snap out of any ‘self-pity’ monologue that might be running in my own head.

In a world where I am usually involved with a valuation and exchange of tangible goods and services, this exchange involving flowers stands out in a special way. To me flowers seem to form an elusive bridge between the tangible and intangible. I can touch and feel and smell flowers and yet they embody much much more than what the eyes and nose picks up. I know in my ‘rational mind’ that the flowers would have pretty much withered in half a day and that I will then throw them away. Yet I find unknown parts of me reach beyond this ‘rational frame’ to greet and salute and adore the flowers when I see and handle them.

What is this part of me that comes out so easily in the presence of these flowers? The part of me that is fully present in the ‘Now’, and unbothered by concerns of ‘future evaluation’. The part of me that is willing to get blown away by colours and fragrance. The part of me that is unconcerned with utility and so willing to play with beauty and even pay for it. I want this part of me to come out more often. I want this part of me to sit in the driver’s cabin of my engine, alongside my rational calculating mind. I want this lady to come and give me flowers each morning and activate this spontaneous, joyful, non-utilitarian, and romantic part of me. Oh how can I explain in a ‘rational way’ why I want those seemingly useless bundle of blossoms she gives me, that seemingly useless meeting of eyes and smiles, and that seemingly useless exchange of energy that infuses me with strength.

Yesterday, this flower woman lingered on a little longer than her usual 2 second visit. She showed me her mouth which she was keeping covered. She conveyed through actions and broken tamil that she had gotten quite a few teeth extracted and that it was a very expensive procedure. She spoke about her financial hardships and the various dentists she had been to. She looked like she was in pain but she did not speak or complain about the pain. She just indirectly hinted that some other people in our campus had helped her out a bit financially. I offered to help her out a bit as well and our conversation ended.

Today I saw her as she was walking on our street in streaming sunlight and she looked every bit like an angel who had descended onto earth. My heart leapt out towards her and I wanted to give her everything I had in my purse right then. However, I allowed my thoughts to ‘take over’ and I gave her the sum of money that my rational brain had decided to give her yesterday. She accepted it gracefully and left.

I sat down to meditate soon after this incident and a sentence jumped into my awareness. It was a line from a Donald Duck book that my son and I have read quite a few times. The story in the book is about a series of conflicts that arise between Donald Duck and the chipmunks (Chip & Dale). Donald buys a new house in the countryside and is all excited about repairing it and moving into it. The chipmunks however had made the abandoned building their home and had put together a ‘chipmunk home structure’ with leaves and twigs in the living room and had stocked up their supply of nuts for the winter. Donald sees this as ‘junk’ and ‘nuisance’ and starts sweeping it away. The chipmunks however are not to be outdone and they devise a series of strategies to drive Donald away.

Eventually after repeated failed attempts to drive the chipmunks away Donald gives up and starts packing his stuff into the car to leave. At this point Daisy duck arrives with Huey, Dewey, and Luey (Donald’s little nephews) to pay him a surprise visit. Together they manage to convince Donald to stay. The kids (Huey, Dewy, and Luey), then build a tree-house in the garden for the chipmunks and they refill it with the scattered leaves, twigs and nuts which Donald had swept away. The chipmunks take the cue and check out the tree house. They are delighted to find a cozy home and to see that the kiddy ducks had found and reorganized their lost and scattered treasure of nuts as well. Daisy duck watches the whole scene and tells Donald lovingly, “You always had enough space for them (chipmunks) in your house. You needed to find space for them in your heart”.

So this morning the question for me was ‘How much space do I have in my heart for this flower woman’, whose name I don’t even know. The sum of money I gave her need not have been a reflection of how much money I had to spare or how much money she needed to cover her costs or how much I owed her because of the employee-contract I have with her. These were variables my rational mind could find to help arrive at a sum. However, they alone need not have driven my calculation. My decision could have also been driven by how much space I have in my heart for her. Indeed, perhaps the final sum I gave her was a reflection not merely of how much space I have in my heart for her but how much of that space am I willing to acknowledge and approve of. Obviously this question then leads on to further questions like how much space can I create in my heart for her? How much space do I want to create? How much space am I willing to create?

How large do I want to make my heart and how many people and things do I want to allow into my heart? Truly, I have access to infinite resources because I live in an infinite universe. I can be creative enough to find ways to summon and distribute the infinite resources because my creativity has no bounds. What seems to have bounds and at present though (for me) is the space in my heart. Am I willing to relook at where I have drawn the boundaries of my heart?

One of my favorite songs these days is ‘Tum ne mari Entriyaan Dil mein baji Ghantiyaan’ (When you entered, the bells in my heart started ringing’. I will modify it slightly to suit me. ‘Every Time someone enters my heart, then a multitude of bells in my life start ringing’. So why not let those bells ring more and more? Why not let people enter my heart more and more? Why not let my life turn into an orchestra of ringing bells? Why not make more and more space in my heart? What is stopping me? What am I afraid of? What am I unaware of?

Flirting with Gods and Dogs – An Unabashedly Polyamorous Approach

Last Night I had dinner with the MBA students that I have been teaching this term. As we opened up and shared our stories with one another a student on my table asked me about my interest in theology. As I narrated my story I realized that I have been unabashedly polyamorous in my relationship with Gods and religions. I was born into a Hindu family, I went to a convent school, and I used to spontaneously chant, ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachhami’ in our home Hindu temple when I was as young as 8 years or so.

To say I have been obsessed with God would be an understatement. No matter what else has been going on in my inner and outer worlds, a part of me has always maintained a continuous monologue with God inside of me. This part of me has never been confused or worried about which form of God I have conversed with, pleaded with, played with, complained to, and at some points even bargained with. God, in-turn, has always responded to my call and she has never staged a no-show.

About 15 years back, on a trek in the Sakleshpur jungle, I was stuck on a 50 meter high train track bridge without any railings (and attacked by a whole community of hornets whose nest had been unwittingly disturbed). A heartfelt call to Krishna was all it took to find the courage and strength to walk my way back to safety. In fact Krishna stayed unbelievably close to me that entire day, as we navigated further challenges that came upon our group. During the next 48 hours, Krishna guided and empowered me to help other members in our group as well and facilitate physical healing in a way that seemed miraculous even for me. His presence by my side was so real and so tangible that from that day I no longer felt any need to intellectually question the existence of ‘God’. I have had similar experiences with other Gods as well. The Virgin Mary has come to me each time I have knelt before her statue in a church I used to frequent during my days as a PhD student in London. Goddess Saraswati indulges me every time I call out to her before I have to teach a class.

I have been simultaneously loyal to Krishna, to Buddha, to Jesus, to Shiva, to Archangel Michael, to Meher Baba, to Hanumanji, to the Sun God, to the Ocean God, and many more. I have at different points offered myself to each of these Gods, pledging my unfailing devotion and love towards them. As a younger girl I have at one point offered myself up in marriage to the Ocean God and then at another time also vehemently sworn to Krishna that He is my ‘true’ partner.

The interesting thing I am realizing however is that I have never felt divided or ‘untrue’ inside my heart at any of these times. Each of these Gods has been unconditionally accepting of my love and they have been unconditionally giving in their love and none of them has ever asked me, ‘who do you love more?’, or ‘will you commit your entire life to me?’. None of these Gods (or Angels) has rebuked me for being a ‘flirt’. None of them has ever asked me to ‘make up my mind’ about who I want to be with or pray to. None of them has called me ‘undecided’, ‘confused’, or ‘infidel’, because in truth I have not been any of these. Rather, I have been astonishingly clear about which God(s) I want to invoke or call upon and when. There has been no conflict or confusion in my heart and the question of ‘infidelity’ does not even arise because there is no contract of exclusivity.

I love the stars. Everytime I see them, they twinkle and wink with delight and remind me of the glimpse of oneness which I had when I was 14 years old. It was the first night of a trek in the Himalayas and I lay on a rock beside a tributary of the Ganges and casually turned my gaze upwards. A wave of unbelievable lightness engulfed me as I tried to take in the infinite number of twinkling stars that formed a radiant canopy above me. Before I knew it my intellect just stepped aside and I became one with the stars themselves. They had me that very instant, and I had every one of them that very instant. The stars have never left me since then and I have not left them either.

I also love the sun. I worship him as a God and I adore her as the divine painter in the sky. I love the touch of his warm golden rays on my skin in the mornings and I bask in the pink and orange ribbons of light that she creates during the evenings. I also love the moon. I narrate my stories of love and longing to her and she beams back to me visions both real and unreal. Interestingly, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars have ever complained to me about the love or affection or attention I give to other heavenly bodies. I engage and commune with each of them and they with me. Incidentally my mother also loves both the sun and the moon. My sister really has this thing for tracing constellations in the sky with her fingers. I have never ever argued with either of them or even felt jealous of the fact that they love and play with the same heavenly bodies as me.

I have known love in many forms. I will not be able to express what each of these loves has been. But I will try to tell you about the love I feel for ‘Thoraga’ and ‘Growly’. The very first day I moved into my faculty quarters in the IIMB campus, Thoraga made it very clear that we could enter the house but the verandah belonged to her. Even though Thoraga is one of the loves of my life today I will tell you she looks dirty and often smells weird. This is not surprising given that she spends much of her time rolling in the mud and playing on the street. I however, had just moved back to India from a hyper-sanitized home environment in London and my son was three years old.

Thoraga and GrowlyI spent nearly six months trying to shoo Thoraga away. Even though my heart wanted to jump with her and cuddle her I thought that it was in the best interests of maintaining ‘safety’ and ‘hygiene’ for my toddler to shoo the ‘stray dog’ away. Thoraga however, had no such worries of hygiene and safety and neither did she doubt her own angelic nature. She didn’t seem to mind the fact that I never fed her anything and never even gave her a pat. Her love was unconditional and she would come bouncing to greet me every time I entered our street, her tail wagging in welcome delight. Slowly and persistently she kept wooing me over and I don’t know when and how it happened but one day I realized I was quite madly in love with her.

It has been five years since I moved into this campus and Thoraga has been a steady and consistent source of love, warmth, affection, and delight. We have gone through some hard times when we have had to physically battle dog catchers, intervene in street fights with other packs of dogs, and even hide her inside our home at points (which is tough for her because she is used to prowling the streets). Yet the love is so special and so beautiful that I would not trade it for anything in the world. About two years back Thoraga befriended Growly, and they have since been the best of friends. Growly was initially shy and not so fond of human beings. However over time, thanks to Thoraga’s mediation and excellent interpersonal skills Growly also has become friends with many of the human inhabitants on our street including me. I used to be very wary of Growly and for quite some time I would put up with his presence only because he was Thoraga’s friend. Yet again, one day I realized that somehow in a quiet and unassuming way I had fallen in love with Growly as well.

There is a complex network of love here on our street. Many of us human beings love Thoraga and Growly and they love us back and they love each other as well. You should see how Thoraga stands aside to let Growly eat whenever anyone offers them food. There is absolutely no concern or jealousy on my part when someone else loves Thoraga, and she does not mind if I love other beings. There is no signed contract between us, no expectation (even of food – I have taken care to not create a pattern of regular feeding), and no obligation or restriction in our love. When I sit on my garden bench and meditate in the morning sunlight, Thoraga sometimes comes and nuzzles up to me. These are the special days when I feel in communion with both the Sun and with Thoraga simultaneously and I delight in the awesome threesome we create.

A person I met on a recent trek told me that I am mixing up love for God, love for human beings, and love for animals and nature and that these are all very different kinds of love. I listened to his logic but I have a different perspective. I think it is the prerogative of the lover (if at all) to choose the form and type of love, whatever the context. In fact, I feel the nature of love itself is such that more often than not, love just descents and unfolds between unsuspecting subjects and objects. It is almost as if there is a certain degree of helplessness where love is concerned. That is why, given my experiences with love so far, I am choosing to keep my love non-classified, non-exclusive, non-contractual, and ever expanding.

The Enchanted Water that Enchanted Me

Last weekend I went on a trek to the Kudremukh peak which stands proud and tall in the heart of the Western Ghats. Our winding trail took us through alternating phases of grasslands and dense woods. There was a sparkling mountain stream that greeted us at frequent bends and it finally met us once again when we were nearly at the summit. The stream was a dainty trickle at the top, but close to our base camp it turned into a roaring tumbling voluptuous delight that sported colourful waterfalls and rock pools. The trail itself sometimes felt like an enchanted wood and at other times like an exquisite art exhibition where all the paintings had suddenly come alive.

Click by Antony
Click by Antony

I travelled with a delightful bunch of strangers (a group put together and led by the Nirvana Nomads – an amazingly soulful travel company). During the course of the two days our group bantered about several things, one of which was about how one decides which parts of the water in a stream is safe to drink. We had the usual points come up. Running water versus still pools, upstream versus downstream, and clear versus muddy. At one point we were joking that animals and other creatures upstream might also be doing pee and potty in the river and that there definitely would be bacteria even in running water. I started thinking about this point and even though I had no doubt in my mind that the stream water was wonderful, yet my intellect was curious to understand more about it’s properties.

I came back home and spent the next two days studying and reading about natural water, specifically mountain streams (indeed I am an eternal student). I learnt many interesting things about what makes water in one place or geography different from another. The minerals and salts of the area (or the areas upstream), the specific vegetation on the banks, the herbs and algae and moss within the stream itself, the composition of the rocks and sand, and last but not least the creatures that form the natural habitat of the stream. Indeed the water of one stream is so completely different from the water of another that we should probably not call it the same water at all. However all these above factors were still about the actual addition of specific foreign particles to the fluid. The point I learnt that most blew me away was about how the structure of water itself is different at different places.

Photo from: www.the-scientist.com - article -Structured-Water-Is-Changing-Models
Photo from: http://www.the-scientist.com – article -Structured-Water-Is-Changing-Models

So what do we mean by the structure of water? Water is always H20 right? An almost teddy-bear-face shaped molecule with the large oxygen molecule as the face and the two hydrogen atoms forming the ears. Is that not what we learnt in school? Well it turns out the water molecules are far more versatile and adventurous than our school textbooks give them credit for. Water molecules literally dance around with one another, courting and flirting as the water swirls around. They then form dainty new structures, holding hands (read as hydrogen atoms) to form chains, loops, links and in the best cases large expanses of a gel like web structure. This kind of structured water then begins to have properties quite unique to itself (which are quite different from unstructured water). The easiest way to understand this is to use the analogy of carbon atoms which form the substance of plain coal and also the substance of diamonds. The special properties of diamonds come from the unique structure of the carbon atoms in a diamond (not from the carbon atoms themselves).

Although structured water has several special properties, for me one of the most fascinating property is it’s ability to purify itself. The molecular clusters in structured water are more coherent and because of it’s web like geometry, pollutants, toxins, and chemicals are parsed and separated from the space of the water itself. This way structured water literally purifies itself at a molecular level by expelling heavier molecules out of its tightly knit structure.

Click by Shubhadeep
Click by Shubhadeep

By now you must be wondering what is the connection between structured water and mountain streams. It turns out that when water gushes over rounded rocks and boulders and twirls around in the vortices formed between the rocks, that churning movement leads it to naturally structure itself. Little wonder then that the stream water looked and felt so delicious. Indeed scientists who have invented mechanical water purifiers that function purely by structuring water have designed their gadgets to mimic the swirling flow of water as it naturally happens in mountain streams.

Apparently structured water has been a subject of interest for decades now, and there are those who swear by the beneficial properties of structured water as well as those who are cynical about it. There are researchers who have gone on to study even more subtle nuances of structured water which include treating water as something that actually has memory like properties. This is because water apparently has the ability to structure itself based on several factors (not just because of the swirling tumbling physical movement in mountain streams). Some of the other factors that have been discovered to influence the structure of water are light rays, sound waves, magnetic fields, hydrophilic surfaces in contact with the water and electromagnetic radiation. So this means that water which flows from point A to point B will literally carry within it’s structure the memory imprint of the sounds, lights, surfaces, and electromagnetic fields it has been exposed to at every point between A and B.

For me my own experience of swimming in the delightful rockpool downstream was enough to make me believe that there was something special about this water. Soaking and bathing in the water healed the aches and pains in my

Click by Jayakrishna
Click by Jayakrishna

body, washed away my regrets and anxieties, and me fall in love with life all over again. And why should it have been any less miraculous? This water carried the blessings of the gods that dwell on mountain tops. This water brought whispers from fairies and elves that inhabited the enchanted woods on the slopes. This water held within it’s structure tonal imprints of the songs of crickets and forest birds. This water had been kissed and programmed by the morning and evening sunlight that painted it in shades of golden and pink. This water had been charged by the magnetism of the earth’s surface. This water had been kneaded by the powerful tree roots that curvaciously lined its flow. This was enchanted water indeed and perhaps that is why it left me enchanted!